I DON'T KNOW.
Over and over again in my head until I tried to banish those three words. Say it! Say it one more MFing time. I dare you. By mile 80 I had accepted I don't know as a state of being. I really didn't know. What time it was, where I was, where I was going, how to get there, what was coming next. I had to accept simply being where I was.
UTMB- The race of a lifetime. Start in Chamonix, France, circumnavigate the Mont Blanc Massif via Italy, Switzerland and back to France in a 104 mile circuit. Roughly 32,000ft gain and loss throughout the Alps. 3,200 runners. Start time 5:30PM.
One week before departing for France we didn't know if we could actually go or not. Family medical issues were taking precedent. Scheduling with doctors, surgeons, nurses et al. The trip was a 50/50. Throw on top of this, work issues which were taking up enough time I couldn't really train properly at all. Going to France? I don't know.
Recovered from Hardrock? Recovered from Western States? I don't know. How will you find out? First climb or second climb I guess.
Issues resolved themselves, the window opened and we flew the coop. The whole family trundling from Seattle to Paris in a cloud of confusion. What time is it? How do we do customs in France? Do we have enough Euros? Why didn't we study more French?
Settled into Paris in a quaint apartment we found our bearings amongst the patissaries, fromageries, marches and cobbled streets. Which Metro to the Louvre? What kind of cheese do you suppose they put in the crepes? How can this wine be so cheap and so good? Just as we had Paris in focus, we upped and took a fast train to Annecy. Are there taxis on Sundays? Why is everything closed? Is that a castle or a church?
Maps, wifi and good old wandering and we had Annecy sussed out after a few days. Then we split for Chamonix and another clear slate. Is this the right train station? Could it be raining harder? What is the address of the apartment? As is usually the case, things resolve themselves and there we were in a beautiful apartment in a beautiful town at the base of an amazing mountain covered in glaciers. Wet, hungry, confused, happy. To the grocery store! What is this? What is that? Is that a sheep's head? Is that smell cheese or compost? How much is a kilo in pounds?
I never changed my watch to French time because it is really hard to change. 9 hours from Seattle time. Good enough. In France, digital clocks are on 24 hour time while watches with hands use the 12 hour time. We explored Chamonix and fell quickly in love. We rode the Tram to the Aguille Du Midi at 12,604ft. We hiked to Le Lac Bleu. We wandered town, we rode the Luge, we vacationed. We ate really good food and a lot of Nutella. I checked in to the race and fumbled my way around the language. I didn't have a clue if my incredibly heavy running pack was full of necessities or garbage. What would the course be like? Did I really need rainpants and manpris when I run in shorts during snowstorms in the PNW? Are the rubberized waterproof gloves I bought at the industrial fishing supply store overkill? Am I the only one here wearing deoderant?
The clock started ticking down. Am I ready? Am I trained? I know I'm not going to be at peak level but do I have enough endurance left from my early season training to make it to the finish? If I have an elite runner number, am I a sham if I finish mid pack?
The day dawned. I stayed in bed as long as I could. What am I doing? What have I taken on? I ate and ate. I dropped off my single drop bag. I milled about the street with my family. Am I supposed to meet the other runners here? What time is it? The race starts at 5:30 PM, I wended my way to the front corral at 4:30 as the rain began in earnest. Am I going to barf in front of French TV cameras? I saw the other top runners and chatted with friends. What is your plan? Do you have crew? Poles? Food? Bladder or bottles? Loud speakers, helicopters, crowds, flags, chaos and we were off like a marathon. 2,300 people. Running stupid through the town towards the hills. I was soaked. Should I bust out the rain gear even though I'm not cold? How come no one other than the Americans are talking? Am I going out too fast? So this is a French ski area. Man I'm wet. What the hell? A Fromagerie at the top of a ski mountain? This mud is really slippery and my shoes have no grip. This is like skiing! Whoops! Time for the poles. Is that the aid station? I'll eat some of everything. Hey it is Seb! Aloha, I mean Bonjour!
Where am I? Oh, yeah, kilometer something or other. What time is it? My watch seems to have stopped working. Shit. O.K. doesn't matter keep running get out your headlamp. Man am I wet. Is that a bonfire? What was that kid singing? Why is everyone so happy to see me? Is this another aid station or a spectator cluster around a fire? Is there soup? Is that chocolate at the aid station? As much as I want? I have a pocket. Man these shoes are slippery. Glad I have the poles. Is this the Col Du Bon Homme? Is that a constellation or a string of runners way up there? Way, up, there. Is that a 6 mile conga line of headlamps behind me? Will this climb ever end? Is the entire descent technical? Can I drink this water? Am I in France or Italy? Is Swiss cheese still Swiss cheese in Italy? Does this mean my quads are recovered from Hardrock? Is it going to be morning soon? I have no idea what time it is, doesn't matter, just run. Are you from Canada? Is there soup? oooh chocolate. Is that the sky getting light or a town? Do I still need my light or can I let the batteries die like they just did? Is this Couermayer? Where is my dropbag? Do I need to change shoes? Did I bring extra socks? Yes and no. Is that Ziti? Is there a bathroom? Should I take a shower? No. Coffee? Yes. Do I feel like a new man? yes I do. Was that a rooster? Heehee. Could this climb be prettier? Is that a raspberry? Top of the climb already? Coffee? Why don't I run in the morning more at home? Is that Mont Blanc? Is that the other side of the tunnel? Is the next Refugio soon? Is that the same guy I've passed 12 times already? Are those campsites? Is that the food tent way down there? I don't know what time it is. I don't know where I am mile wise. Just run down the mountain to the aid station. Is there anything in here that looks good? Soup with Star pasta, bread and coffee. Down it goes...up it comes. I'm an anime kitten who makes star comets shoot out of his mouth. Am I going to puke forever? Am I done with the race? Am I embarrassed enough to top off my water and leave? Yes. Can I pull it together? How far to the next food stop? Let's see...19 kilometers, 6.4 miles per 10k times roughly two means 'bout 13 miles up a huge climb and down the other side on zero nutrition. Hit it! Could it get steeper? Could I have a bonkier head? Is that fog and rain headed this way? Is there no water at the top? Why do I get the first runnable downhill when I'm bonked out? Is that the water stop from my map? No? Is that? Is that? Is that? I dunno. Must not exist. Is the La Fouley aid station at the bottom of this trail? No. Across the river? No. Near those cheering people? No. All the way down the road, the hot hot road? Yes. Do I drop here? Do I nap? Can I eat without puking? Do I look as bad as those guys? Mmmm crackers and more crackers. Could this aid station tent get hotter? Can I walk it in from here? What mile am I? What time is it? I don't know. Just walk until it gets cooler. Is everyone and their mother passing me? Are those mushrooms? Are those Swiss Raspberries? Is this shade runnable? Is that someone giving out hot tea? Yum. Is that a village fountain for me to soak my hat, my shirt and my head? Is my mojo coming back? What time is it? It is go time! Up this tiny hill to Champex... is this really the "small" climb on my elevation tattoo? Is this the right way? Am I going too hard? Is this the top? is this the top? Hey that must be the top no? Is this a joke? Is that the...No. This must be the...no. Jesus is that the aid station already? Yes. Is that more real pasta with sauce and blueberry pie? Damn I might never leave. Is all this food staying put? Am I really back on track? Could this lake be prettier? Is this the start of the big climb or the approach? Is this the trail or a stream? I wonder what time it is? Is Bovine named after the cows or cows after it? could this be steeper? Is that a cow gate? Is this the top? It is? Sweet. Does this descent get more technical? How can you do this race without poles? Is that the valley floor? Are those adoring fans or cows with bells. Cows. Is this Trient? Is the dude with the microphone giving me shit for being American? Is this soup going to sit? Should I be in and out so fast? Why isn't this climb going up faster? Why so many switchbacks? Will it ever top out. Am I in Switzerland or France. I don't know what time it is. What mile or kilometer or whatever just climb. I want to see the sun set in France, where is the sunset? Is this the top? Are those voices? Nope, Sheep with little bells. Is it getting dark? Can I make it down to Vallorcine without a light? Is this only technical for me? Is my flashlight in here? Is this possible to hold while using poles? Is my headlamp in here with the dead batteries? How many people just passed me as I fiddled with my headlamp? What are Jane and kids doing? What time do you suppose it is? What am I doing here in the middle of Europe, in the dark, tired, hungry, confused. I don't know. Keep going. Is this the last chance for real food? Could I get more pissy in an aid station than I am here and now? Crackers will do for now, the soup couldn't get past my lips. Deep breath, pack back on, out into the black night. On and Up. Up, up. Is this a climb or a dry waterfall? Is this right? If I slip will I die? Are there lawyers in France? Are the rocks smiling at me? Is that a lizard? Is that a marker or a star? Where is everyone? Am I on Earth? Am I drinking enough? Is this going down or up? Where am I? Is, whooops! Oh shit! Man, man, shit, man. OK OK, I'm OK, shit. OK gather, fetch the pole from the edge of the cliff, you're alright, let's go, you're fine. Am I taking stupid chances? Should I drop? What time is it. Is that the last aid station? Should I eat? Crackertime! Water and go dog go! Is this downhill all runnable? Am I flying or what? Is this going to take no time to get to Chamonix? What time is it? Are those lights? Is that town? Why isn't that town? Are you alright? You sure? Do you need help? OK. See you, bon chance. Is that someone else to pass? Am I really almost done? Is that town? Is that road? Are those foot steps behind me? Is that dude passing me? Am I challenging him? Are we really sprinting this thing in at mile 103? Is this real? Am I really back in Chamonix running past the familiar sights of the week? Is this really the end, the finish chute, the arch? Is that time right? 32:21:08 Is this really my wife and kids waiting for me? I know! Now I know! I know what time it is! I know where I am! I know who I'm hugging and why! I know why I do these stupid things. I know what it is like to see the Alps from all sides day and night. I know what I look like from the inside when I'm raw. I know what racing in Europe feels like, smells, like, tastes like. I know these things because I was there, and there and there. When will I come back and race this race again? I don't know but I hope it is soon.